The parade of special guests on “Merlin” continues this week when Warwick Davis stars as the guardian of a mystical path.
In “The Eye of the Phoenix” (9 p.m. March 4, Syfy), Davis plays Grettir, a gatekeeper who will help Arthur, Merlin and Gwaine. (Watch video clips by clicking the "Merlin sneak peeks" link to the left.)
“I was absolutely thrilled because we love to watch ‘Merlin’ in [my] household,” he said. “For me, it harks back to being a youngster watching dramas such as ‘The Chronicles of Narnia,’ which I had the honor of being in, too.”
Appearing in the “Narnia” movies isn’t Warwick’s only fantasy/sci-fi cred. He played Professor Filius Flitwick in the “Harry Potter “ movies, Wicket the Ewok in “Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi” and the title characters in “Willow” and the “Leprechaun” franchise.
Davis took time from filming “Merlin” to chat about his role in the episode, working with the cast and his upcoming project, a comedy with Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant.
How did this guest-starring role on Merlin come about?
Well it was lovely. I guess the longer you're acting and the longer you are around, the more often you are offered a part rather than having to audition. It is really nice when the director offers you the role because you don't have the worry of auditioning and thinking, “I want the part—will I get the part?” At the same time, you walk on the set on the first day and in the back of your mind you're wondering, “I hope I can fulfill the director's vision of this character, because no one really knows what I am going to do.” Whereas if you've auditioned already you know what the director likes. It's very flattering.
What can you tell us about your episode?
I play a keeper of a bridge. He is a sweet little character called Grettir. He guards a bridge, which leads to the lands of the Fisher King. He gives people a bit of a hard time if they want to come across; they have to have the right reasons and be the right person to cross this bridge. Obviously he wants Merlin and Arthur to get across it because ultimately he wants to see the lands restored so he lets Merlin and Arthur pass without too much trouble. But he takes his job quite seriously.
What was it like working with the cast and crew of “Merlin”?
It was terrific. It's often hard going into a project where, like “Merlin,” the cast and crew have been together many years now and you walk in as the new boy. It feels very much like the first day of school and you don't know anyone. I was immediately made to feel very welcome and it was a really, really fun filming. I felt very at home and very part of it. Colin (Morgan, who plays Merlin) and Bradley (James, who plays Arthur) were top blokes, really good guys and very welcoming.
Where did you film?
We filmed in a very interesting location, in a place called Puzzlewood, in the Forest of Dean. It's like an art director went in there and created this set, but it's a natural area. It was a mine at one point and all these little areas have been dug out. It looks magical, it looks like you're going to walk round the corner and you'll see a goblin standing there. It's absolutely perfect and the little bridge that my character guards actually exists.
People that watch the show can go and find my bridge if they wish to. It isn't a set; somebody put it there in the past. In fact, it was the place that inspired JRR Tolkien to write “The Hobbit.” We were talking about that while we were filming because it does have this magical quality to it, even though it was tipping down with rain when we were filming. That's filming for you—everyone thinks it's such a glamorous world but most of the time you're standing in mud in the pouring rain.
Does your character have magical powers?
He does have magical powers because he is able to appear from thin air. So he does to a degree, but he doesn't show off any more magic than that—I like to think he has a bit more going for him than that. But being able to appear and disappear is a pretty good skill.
If you could have a magical power, what would it be?
I think being invisible is quite useful at times, although you'd have to be very respectful and use it correctly. For me I think levitation would be very useful. Often I can't reach counters in shops, cash machines and books on shelves. If I could just levitate up and get to these things it would be very useful for me.
You've led a very interesting life and it’s now documented in your autobiography, “Size Matters Not.” Has that always been an ambition of yours?
I turned 40 this year, so I didn't really feel old enough yet. But after some persuasion I sat down and started to write it and it took about a year and a half. It was very exciting to sit back and take stock of my career. When you are living that life you don't necessarily appreciate it as much as you should. While writing the book, I really felt so lucky to have done such an amazing amount of work over the years. I've had so many great opportunities and worked with some amazing people.
I do appreciate every bit of work I do now—I appreciate it much more because I stand back a little and go, "Wow, this amazing." It was the same with Merlin—it's an institution and has a huge following around the world. It was just nice to be asked to go down there and do my thing.
Of all the roles you've played, do you have a favorite?
It's really hard. When you play a character, they become sort of part of your family in a way. So thinking of a favorite is very difficult. I think Wicket, the Ewok I played in “Return Of The Jedi”—my very first role—has got to be up there, just because he has given me this amazing career. Professor Flitwick in “Harry Potter,” I am very fond of that character, too.
What can fans enjoy you in next?
I am also working on my comedy series, “Life's Too Short,” with Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, which we are shooting [in] May. It's great, such a laugh, and with Ricky and Stephen you have the reassurance that what you are doing will be funny. They've managed to gain such great insight into my world, because it's about me—I play myself—and they've really got that. I can't believe I am working with them—I've hit the jackpot getting those guys on board!
Interview courtesy of Freemantle Media